Jon Jones is probably going to lose to a former middleweight.
This weekend Jon faces his second opponent in a row who used to fight at middleweight. It’s most likely that Santos will lose in dominant fashion, but Jon’s reckoning with a smaller man is coming. This may sound like a bold claim, but given the levels of competition around Jones, if he ever loses, it will have to be to a fighter outside of light heavyweight. The incredibly shallow two hundred and five pound division, along with Jones constant insistence on not moving up to heavyweight really only gives Jones a chance to lose to one type of guy: middleweights looking for a new life up at light heavyweight.
Moving up a weight class is often seen as a risk. Typically it’s proceeded by a devastating loss, which only makes the move to a heavier division look more desperate. Time and time again though, fighters moving up have shown to have more success than not. Take Dustin Poirier who returned to lightweight after only lasting two minutes in the cage with Conor McGregor. Dustin never reached the top of the featherweight division, but at lightweight has become a fighter with one of the strongest resumes out there. If we look at the champ versus champ fights that have begun to pop up in recent years, the lighter fighter has won nearly every one; Conor beat Alvarez, DC bested Stipe, Nunes destroyed Cyborg, and Cejudo has finished two top bantamweights. The immediate response is to claim that the lack of a weight cut helped the smaller fighter, and there is no doubt that the easier weight cut helps these fighters, but it is hard to actually quantify that affect.
These smaller fighters more often than not do, however, bring a speed advantage that has been a deciding factor in their victories over the bigger men and women. Cyborg may seem to be the more accomplished striker, but she was undoubtedly slower than Nunes who’s fast hands knocked her silly constantly during their short match.
This leads us to the light heavyweight king’s most glaring weakness- his boxing and his defense. Jones prefers to use his abnormally long frame to fight at a distance and snipe his opponents and therefore negating the chance of getting into a boxing exchange in which he would feel uncomfortable. Rather than much head movement or slick defense, he is simply not there to be hit by his opponent in the first place. This begs the question: what if someone was able to constantly initiate boxing exchanges with Jones? A light heavyweight attempting this type of boxing is just hard to come by, and when light heavyweights do box, it’s routinely bad, slow, and infrequent. Middleweights generally have better cardio and a higher work rate, granting them more opportunities than Jones’s fellow light heavyweights in capitalizing on Jones weakness.
Three middleweights come to mind when I think of people who would have success against Jones. Success, of course, I do not mean a victory, but seeing their game matched up with Jones would be enticing. Luke Rockhold, who makes his debut in Jones’s weight class on the same card is the first to come to mind. Rockhold’s biggest weakness is the same as Jones- poor boxing and poor boxing defense. Unfortunately for Rockhold, poor decision making along with facing better, faster boxers, had led Luke to several losses due to his glaring weakness. The most devastating of those losses was to the Soldier of God, Yoel Romero. Romero struggles to make weight and would be my second choice for a middleweight moving up to face Jones.
Romero is among a level of athlete Jones has never seen before. Where Daniel Cormier struggled in the later rounds against Jones, unable to push a pace, Romero would feel much more comfortable. Last of course is the middleweight champion and the greatest example of the success fighters have when moving up weight classes: Robert Whittaker. It is hard to imagine a light heavyweight fighter possessing the skills that Whittaker has. It would be another challenge Jones has not faced before.
Jones decision to remain at the dead in the water weight class of light heavyweight will ultimately be his downfall. The big and scary guys at heavyweight are not that scary after a few minutes, where their glaring cardio problems become apparent. Middleweight is a different story and Jones is playing with fire by insisting on staying at light heavyweight. Maybe Thiago Santos tornado kicks his way to a title this weekend using speed that Jones has never seen before. Maybe he doesn’t, but Jones’s fall, like any great champion, is inevitable. Watching Jones at light heavyweight, he has almost always looked unbeatable. He undoubtedly feels invincible, but a middleweight reckoning is coming.